The Judeo-Christian tradition has a long and deep history of offering a safe place for people who are threatened in some way. Sanctuary is a safe place, a protected environment. In the ancient tradition the altar had four corners, each with a great horn carved out of acacia wood and covered in bronze. If someone needed safety for any reason – from an official or an authority, even from an enemy, all they had to do was make their way to the altar and hold onto one of the horns. No one could touch them. It was sacred space, and their safety was not violated.
We have a long history with sanctuary, with a sense of sacredness about space. We have come to honor it beyond the space of our religious buildings and institutions. When someone is in need of medical care, even if that person has done something heinous, we give them the protection of healing in the safe place of a hospital room. The word hospital comes from our biblical understanding of hospitality, which includes offering protection to the stranger or the enemy. We exercise hospitality by extending sanctuary even to our dwelling place, our home. Someone seeking safety in ancient times only needed to touch your tent and ask for help, and you were obligated to protect them.
There’s a new kind of zeal against immigrants that has extended even to children who are receiving humanitarian medical assistance so that they may live. Edicts have been declared to say, “no more.” These children have been told they must go back to their countries of origin where this medical care is not possible.
It’s time that we stand against this. It’s time that we stand in the name of religion, in the name of all that is sacred, in the name of what it means to be people of faith and offer sanctuary once again to people who are endangered by these decisions. We must not let these sacred values be violated in the name of xenophobia.
We have a challenge to open our sanctuary doors to people who are sick or in need of medical treatment. We have a challenge to extend our sacred space once again to the doors of the hospital and the clinics where people’s lives are at stake. We must say no to those who are given the task to remove people from life-giving treatment in the name of policy that has its roots in fear and hatred. The time is now to stand up to the task.
Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He earned a doctoral degree in ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Genna, live in Sherman. They have three sons. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.